Monday, 28 January 2013

Running To Forget

I need to run.

I don’t just mean; “I’d like to run” or “I’m in the mood for a run” I really do mean I “need” to go for a run.

Also when I say “run” again I really do mean “run”. I’m using the word in the way children normally use it. As in “run as fast as you can”. I don’t mean “jog” or the oxymoronic term a “gentle run” - when you were a kid there was never anything “gentle" about a run. Either you were running hard or you weren’t running at all.

So to repeat; I desperately need to go on a hard physical run.

And the reason for this is because? Well today I am stressed, I have a million things to do, life and work feel like they are getting completely on top of me, and my stress levels are off the scale.

Now I’ve read numerous articles about running reducing stress, it is virtually in our folk wisdom that exercise releases endorphins in our body that are good for us and reduces stress. And so when I say I am stressed and I need to run most people think I’m talking about that. Now don’t get me wrong I believe in the whole endorphin argument and running is good for me overall but I’m talking about running releasing stress in a different way. In a way that I have not seen any articles or scientific studies cover:

Running to forget.

When I’m really stressed I need to find a way of not thinking about anything. A way to forget all my problems and blank out all the things I am meant to be do. The same way some people use drugs or alcohol to temporarily block out reality. Running incredibly hard does that for me.

When I run really hard I find exertion levels so high that after about five minutes I can’t concentrate on anything. I have trouble doing simple mental arithmetic (and believe I often try when calculating how much further I have to run) let alone concentrate on the big problems that are stressing me. I challenge anyone to do a hard speed interval session and think about their microsoft outlook to do list while they are doing it.

And so tonight knowing that I have not done my filing, I have not finished the presentation that was due two days ago and I feel I have a myriad of different tasks hanging over me that are spiralling out of control I will run. I will run as if I was getting drunk. I will run as if I was getting high.

I will run and for 60 glorious minutes I will not have a care in the world, and possibly more importantly I will not have a thought in the world either.  

The picture today is of me having run to forget. I have just done a heavy treadmill speed session and have not got a care (or thought) in the world.

(The original version of this blog appears on )

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Why You Should Eat Cake Before A Run


My mum tells me that when I was a child I would insist on having my desert before my main course. After initially telling me that I would only get my desert after I ate my dinner my parents’ good intentions came up against a four year-old’s stubbornness. After several very fraught meal times the four-year old won. And so for about a year I would eat my desert first but I would also always eat my dinner afterwards (irrespective of what it was). That was the deal my parents had come to with me and we both stuck to our ends of the bargain.

I mention this because we normally think of a reward is something we should get after the hard work. The piece of cake after a long run or the beer after the hard work out, to put it simply desert should come after you’ve eaten a healthy meal.

Recently in my running training I have found my four year old self has resurfaced though and it has made me rethink the whole concept of work and reward.

Take this morning for example. At 6.15am when the alarm went off I did not want to get up and venture out in to the cold dark January morning and run 22km. I’d had a rough day the day before and work commitments meant that I hadn’t got to bed till late.

If you view running as the healthy dinner the biggest motivator for me to run in sub-zero temperatures was because I had already eaten my desert.

The night before I had eaten a massive bowl of spaghetti. As a keen amateur distance runner I eat a lot of carbs, I justify it as being necessary to “fuel my hard work outs”. In reality I know I sometimes use that as an excuse to eat large amounts of calorie rich comfort food far more than I need to "fuel" – I’ve always loved spaghetti long before I started running.

If I had not eaten the food the night before there is no way I would have run this morning. Far from a reward at the end of a run motivating me to get out there, it was because I had already had my reward that I felt compelled to pay for it the following morning.

When I am running and after running I do not crave a reward or want to eat unhealthy cake and high carb food. In fact I’ve even read a recent study that this is quite common. Because of the high level of dopamine (the happy hormone) the body produces during heavy exercise, people crave money, drugs, alcohol etc less afterwards. The dopamine is the reward in itself.

And so if I am going to try and find ways to motivate myself to do the right thing and train when I’m not feeling like it I think I had figured it all out when I was only four. Eat your desert first and the rest will follow.

(The original version of this blog appears on )

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Running Is Easy, Everything Else Is Hard

I enjoy running, and all things considered I am reasonably good at it, not great but good. I’ve run a qualifying time for the Boston marathon and for people who know a thing or two about running that’s an indication that I take it quite seriously.

If I didn't enjoy it I wouldn't do it. There are lots of other ways to keep fit and other hobbies a man my age could take up.

I would think anyone who runs regularly enjoys it. If they didn’t they would try out other sports and activities until they found one they liked; cycling, yoga, swimming etc.

So like most runners, running is the easy part for me. I’m not saying that it’s not tiring doing interval training, or my muscles don’t burn when I’m running up hills, or I like getting out of a warm bed to run 21 miles when it’s snowing - as I did this morning. But if you have run more than two marathons and you are training for your third like me you clearly enjoy it or you would have stopped.

But if running is the easy part then it’s everything else that is difficult.

I find stretching difficult.

I find it really difficult to eat the right food.

I hate all the strength work in the gym.

If I liked stretching I would have a blog about yoga and go on yoga retreats like my friend and his wife.

If I found dieting and eating the right food fun I’d have an instagram account like my friend who writes and photographs his cookery under the pseudonym “hummus boy”.

And if lifting weights and doing lunges and squats were my thing I would never have taken up running. It was boredom of going to the gym that helped me discover my love of running in the first place.

No, what I enjoy is putting one foot in front of the other as fast as possible for as long as possible. But if I am going to one day run a sub three hour marathon (my best marathon time is 3hours 11minutes), if I want to stay injury free and be able to run all my life and if want to be my best running weight I have to do all of the things I don’t enjoy.

I think what is true for my running is also true for life and is a lesson for all of us. To be good at something is easy – you just need to find out what you enjoy and have a natural aptitude for. But to be really great is about doing all the stuff you don’t like.

Every job, every activity has the bit that people think is the job - just as running looks like it is literally about your legs moving really fast but in reality to be a great runner you have to increase your core strength, increase your flexibility and build up your arm muscles - every job has the bits that no one sees but mastering them is the difference between good and great.

I want to be great at running (I want to run a sub three hour marathon). I want to be great at my job, which like running, I enjoy. But to achieve greatness in either field I will have to stop solely concentrating on the aspects I love and drew me to the activity in the first place and work more on the stuff I don’t like.

The picture today is of my wife and I after the Rio marathon having fun on the winners podium "achieving greatness".

(The original version of this blog post appears on the audio diary )

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Running Like a Rabbi

Most of what we call pain and suffering is relative and normally subjective.

There's an old Jewish story where a man living with his wife in a small apartment learns that his wife's sister is going to move in with them. The man goes to his rabbi to ask for help saying the apartment is too small and there isn't any room for the sister-in-law. The rabbi tells him that what he needs to do is not only embrace his sister-in-law but to invite his two cousins from out of town to stay with him. The story continues with each week the man complaining to his rabbi that too many people are in his home and the rabbi advising him to invite more people into his apartment. After two months the apartment has various relatives, a homeless guy, five dogs and eight cats, a visiting salesman and two other travelling rabbis. Just as the home is about to burst and the man is about to lose his mind the rabbi gives him one last piece of advice. "Tell everyone to leave except your wife and your sister-in-law". The next week after all the animals and various people have left the rabbi sees the man and asks him how everything is with just his wife and sister-in-law living there. "It's like pure heaven!" replies the man, "never been better!"

Welcome to the world of interval training.

I've recently been incorporating speed interval training and hill intervals into my weekly runs. Like the Jewish man in the story having trouble going from just two people in the apartment to three (living with the sister-in-law) I've had problems going from 13km per hour on the treadmill to 13.5km per hour for any length of time. But in interval training I've been pushing myself to run at 15km per hour and even 17km per hour for short bursts - almost like inviting the Jewish man's house guests round just for one night. After running at 17km per hour running at 13.5km seems like a rest from really running hard!

Running up a hill at 13.5km per hour makes running on the flat at the same speed seem like a walk in the park  (well a very fast walk where "walking" really means running).

I think mentally, physically and even emotionally we adjust to our circumstances, our muscles cope and our pain threshold increases. If the rabbi had told the man to have all his relatives and random guests move in the next day after he'd complained the man would not have coped. Instead the rabbi introduced more house guests gradually. I know I have to increase my speed intervals and hill intervals gradually but each time I go back to either running on the flat, or only running slightly faster than I'm used to, it seems so much easier.

All the world famous marathon runners right now seem to be from east Africa but maybe they could run even faster if they asked the advice of a rabbi. I know it definitely helps me.

The picture today is of me feeling pain and suffering 35km into a marathon, in the Jewish story this would be close to the point where the homeless guy has just moved in.

(The original version of this blog post appears on the audio diary )

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Marathon Running - A Thin Line Between Love And Hate


Recently my running has got me thinking that there is a thin line between love and hate.

Last year I ran two marathons and a 10km race. I regularly run 4 times a week. I think nothing of running a half marathon in training and I have a subscription to Runners World magazine.

To anyone who asks me I tell them I love running. But that is not the whole truth. The whole truth is that a lot of the time I hate running. This morning I got up at six in the morning and by 6.15am I had hit the road and was running a half marathon. It was pitch black outside and I was running at my marathon pace of roughly seven minute miles. There was no love and joy as I pounded the streets and ran up and down hills. No, if I’m honest the overriding emotion I was experiencing was hate not love.

I recently bought pictures of myself running, that the organisers of the Amsterdam marathon were selling to me, as one of the participants. I had hoped that seeing them would inspire me to keep on running and train harder. Instead when I looked at them all I saw was a grown man in a lot of pain. Again no love and no joy just pain. 

I realise that to get to the bit of running I love I have to get through a lot of hate and pain as well. To get to that feeling of euphoria, to feel that sense of achievement is not easy. And I realise that there is a lot of love and joy at the end of the running rainbow (and while running towards it as well). 

The challenge is how do I motivate myself to keep on going through the pain to get to the bit I love?

Well what I’ve done is enlisted the help of my friends.

Five of us from literally all over the world (two in New York, one in London and two of us in Glasgow) have formed what we call the run face club. It’s quite simple. Before a run we take a photograph of ourselves on our phones, normally our faces hence the name of the group, and then post it to the other four.

It works because when I really don’t want to run I feel the love of the other run face members. I also feel the peer pressure, when I see fellow run club members post their picture and I haven’t I feel a sense of shame and that can get me over the hurdle of not wanting to get out there when I’m tired. And lastly I think there is a sense of camaraderie; we are like brothers and sisters in effort.

So when I might not be feeling the love for the running I feel the love of my friends and that gets me out and helps me reach the reason I ultimately run. Because I love it – sometimes.

The picture is of run face members Andrew and his wife Tesmer. It might look like two people just about to set off on a run looking strangely moody but this morning it was my inspiration.

(The original version of this blogpost appears on audio diary

UPDATE: Since writing this post run face club has a new member, (see photo on the right). So now there are two of us in Glasgow, two in London and two in New York.